Surprise Vegetable of the Year

October 23rd

The humble turnip is the winner. Fern and I have been married a little over three decades, and we tried turnips at least once a decade. The first time, when we were in college, we were financially poor. One day at the grocery store, we bought a turnip. We took that thing home, cut it up in little chunks, boiled it up like you would mashed potatoes, added butter, salt, and pepper, took one bite, and that was it. That was basically how it went for three decades.

A couple of years back, a man brought a bunch of turnips to church, fresh out of the ground. That was the third decade. So, we basically came to the conclusion that turnips, to our palates, offer an undesirable experience. 

But, one day while at the local feed store, the owner was out planting turnips in his pasture. Never having been shy in the

October 7th

question pool, I asked him why. After getting that look, that you normally get when you realize you have just asked the most unbelievably stupid question, he told me that his cattle would eat the greens all winter long if he would rotate his pastures. Okay. I’m a big city boy, but I’ve been around cattle on and off now for about 30 years, and I’m used to that look from these all-knowing country fellows. But I had still never heard of what he was talking about. So, Fern and I did a little research and found that this was a common technique from days gone by. You see, he uses techniques that were used before every farmer had their own hay equipment and a 500 gallon diesel tank. But it works for him and he doesn’t buy, bale, haul, store or use the diesel to produce hay. He rotates pastures and grows turnips. Well, actually he doesn’t grow turnips, he grows the greens.

Well, at the same time, since Fern and I have a pretty good idea what’s coming in the future, we have been looking into different forms of feed for livestock when the commercial grain is gone. Interesting as it is, we humans have very short memories. People did feed their animals before commercial grains came along. Most livestock are more than happy to eat turnips, rutabagas, beets, sunflower seeds, carrots and a large variety of things that we don’t take the time to produce anymore because grains are so cheap. But the fact of the matter is, these animals stomachs are not designed to process grain. They are designed to process not only the greens from these vegetables, but also the vegetables growing in the ground themselves. 

To make a long story longer, when we were putting our garden to sleep this year, we decided to plant some turnips, carrots and beets on an experimental basis to see if the livestock would eat them. I’m going to focus on turnips here. We are still feeding our chickens turnip greens which they love. We are also starting to feed them the turnip itself, which they happily devour. We also grew and dried some corn this year. You give the chickens dried corn and a turnip, the corn will sit there and not get eaten, but the turnip will be gone.

Now, onto the goats. They will happily consume the turnip greens, and if we chop up the turnip itself, some of our goats will eat them and some of them won’t. But they also know that a bucket of grain is coming, too. It’s kind of like feeding a child, you make the child eat what you want them to eat, then they get desert. Having read the history of goats and turnips, I have no doubt that when the grain is gone, they will be happy to eat turnips. On a side note here, if your goats are expecting babies, be careful changing your feed ration during gestation.

November 23rd

Now, on to the crux of the story. I have always liked turnip greens, Fern has not. There is a lady at church that fixes up a big batch of turnip greens once a month at our potlucks. I get a big scoop, and now, Fern does too. What has caused this change and revelation? Well, one day we decided to cook some turnips, and we got the same results we have gotten for three decades now. Fern mentioned it in the post The Nutrition of Turnips, and a reader posted a very interesting comment. They said we needed to peel all of the outer layer off and it would remove the bitterness from the turnip. “When you peel the turnip be sure to get the translucent layer about an 1/8 of an inch under the skin. The peel will be about 1/4 inch thick. The translucent layer is what has the bitterness in it. Then slice and eat raw…no bitterness. In a stew the turnips now take on the taste of the gravy.”

Look at the line just beyond the knife tip.

We tried it. It is easy to see the line between the outer peel and the inner core, which had escaped our recognition up until now, because we were not looking for it. Now, I know this is comparing turnips to oranges, but imagine eating the peel of an orange, while you’re eating the orange. Now we peel the turnips, and they are actually a very pleasant vegetable.

November 23rd

That tells us that we can grow a much larger plot of turnips to feed chickens, goats and humans, not to mention the pigs coming in the future, but that’s a different story. The turnip is a good food, the greens and the bulb are highly nutritious, and we eat them very similar to potatoes. Soups, stews, and guess what, mashed with butter, salt and pepper. But it was that one comment from a reader that changed our perspective, and relationship to the turnip. This causes us to ponder the possibilities. Are there other things in life that could, with a very simple modification, affect the way we live and do business daily? The possibilities are endless.

December 21st

Fern talks about learning something everyday. We asked a couple of our friends if they knew that they could peel a turnip and remove the bitter part. Neither one of them had ever heard of it. So, how many other products are out there that we don’t consider or would never consider, that with just the smallest change on our part, could become an integral part of our lives? No pun intended here, but it’s certainly food for thought.

January 12th

I guess the reason that this is important to us is we have had at our fingertips for years, and didn’t know it, the ability to feed our livestock, but most importantly, feed ourselves. Yes, I know it’s a turnip, so what’s the big philosophical deal? The big deal is that this has opened up a new window for us. There may come a day someday, maybe someday soon, where that turnip may save our lives. We are excited to have learned how to grow this plant successfully. I can see where it’s going to be a major addition to our future lifestyle. It’s easy to grow, very few pests, really easy to harvest, it will provide us with greens, turnips, eggs, chicken meat, milk, butter, cream, red meat and cheese, all from the humble turnip. And in the future, it may provide us with pork chops and lard. Of course, don’t forget beets, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and cowpeas. It’s opened our eyes and minds.

We’ll talk more later. Frank

34 thoughts on “Surprise Vegetable of the Year

  1. Your comment is very interesting. Learning to peel beyond the bitterness was definitely a revelation for us. It has made a big difference. Now you have Frank wondering about browning them like potato chips. He loves potato chips! This will have to be our next turnip experiment. Thank you very much for sharing this idea.Fern

  2. I agree, MissV. That's why we got the french fry cutter to use in the barn for the goats. It will be interesting to see if it accomplishes the task. Thank you for sharing.Fern

  3. Thank you for sharing the list of things you grow for your critters, Odiie. It gives me more to ponder. Do you harvest and store all of these for use in the winter? Do you dry the nettles and corn? Those are the first questions that come to mind. And, you're right, it is always interesting to see how someone else goes about achieving the same goal we are working on. Thank you very much for sharing.Fern

  4. You're right about goats liking fresh garden stuff in the winter more than in the summer, Leigh. When our goats have the pasture to graze in the summer and they can pick and choose from all of that green stuff, they will turn their noses up at most green things I bring them. One Stripe loves cowpeas and green bean ends anytime, though. Now if I could just get the rest of them on board. After all of the kids are born we are going to try to eliminate or greatly reduce the feed we buy. It may affect their milk production, but we are not aiming for maximum production from each goat. We only need enough to drink, and make cheese and butter. The extra milk and whey will go to the dog, cats, chickens and pigs. We look forward to this process and are very interested to see how it will work. Thank you for sharing.Fern

  5. We know several folks that cube and boil their turnips, then add butter and a little sugar. We have found even the large turnips taste just fine if you peel down below the 'bitter line', Beth. Thank you for the comment.Fern

  6. When I read the first few lines I had decided to tell you how to enjoy turnips. Then one by one you covered all the bases. My good friend last year near my old residence grew a row of them. When I peeled one and salted it, it was a revelation to him. Wow, he actually liked it. I like them better raw than cooked and it's easier, but ok cooked too.One other way is to slice them and lightly brown them like potato chips

  7. I read as many of the old time agriculture publications I can get my hands on. One thing that was ALWAYS mentioned about feeding livestock turnip, beets, carrots, etc. is to cut them into small pieces, especially for cattle because they can choke on them.

  8. I'm in the process of figuring just how much I should grow to keep our livestock for the winter. In northern Minnesota, there isn't much for winter grazing, but if we plan it right we can graze into November and maybe early December. I grow comfrey, nettles, pumpkins, kale, rutabagas, corn and carrots for the critters, but not near what I need to really get them through the season. We put in an oat field every other year, but use the big machines to do that. I like finding others looking at the same questions.

  9. Excellent post, Frank. Dan and I actually like the slightly bitter taste! I reckon because it's a nice change. I find that my goats like turnips best in winter, when there's less variety to offer. Fussy critters, LOL

  10. Small to medium turnip bulbs will be tender and tasty raw with salt. It is when they get over grown and big they get hot & bitter. Just like radishes or lettuce. If cooking for a mashed turnip dish, add a spoonful of sugar will turn them right around ( I had a 75 year old to tell me this) I tend to listen to my elders, they know better than me!

  11. Hi Sharon. We have a patch of comfrey and a patch of sun chokes growing. We planted our first patch of sun chokes too deep and they haven't done very well. So, we started a second patch last summer, which grew very well for a first year crop. We didn't harvest any so they could spread.We've had one comfrey plant for about 4 years, then last year I added 5 more. The new ones grew so well I harvested leaves nearly everyday for a couple of months for the goats and chickens. I plant to expand the comfrey bed this year and add another dozen or so roots. It grows very well here and is very nutritious for the animals with a great protein content. Thank you very much for the generous offer. We're glad you enjoy your time here.Fern

  12. Hello. Great posts. Two more things we can eat but we feed to our animals – comfrey and sun chokes (Jerusalem artichokes). Both very invasive but require nothing but sun. We planted them where we wanted nothing else. Sun chokes are strange looking but can be eaten raw or cooked like potatoes. If you would like some we will send you some for free (Frank and Fern only) sorry. Send me an email and we will send them in the spring. I love your posts and really look forward to them.

  13. There are many different variety of turnips some are better for animal feeds and some are grown for human consumption… if you look at this page: under \”navets legumes\” are for humans consumption and if you look under \”navets fourragers\” are for animal feeds.

  14. I really hope you enjoy them, Dr. Mom. It has really been an eye opener for us. Both the turnip and the greens are so nutritious, we are just happy they are working out so well, for us and the animals. Thanks for the comment.Fern

  15. Interesting dog, Sue. We haven't tried feeding turnips to our Great Pyrenees, or the cats. We had some friends that fed their dogs carrots and green beans, and they just gobbled them down. Thank you for giving us another example of how to feed turnips that doesn't include livestock. (-:Fern

  16. What an interesting memory, Shannon. It just goes to show how exposure to different things can broaden your taste buds. You just can't beat vegetables fresh from the garden, can you? Thank you for sharing.Fern

  17. Good information to know, Kathy. We would really like to get a good crop of sugar beets growing as well. So far, we haven't had much luck with them. They would be wonderful animal feed, and we would like to experiment with making sugar. Thank you for remembering and passing on an old practice.Fern

  18. I don't know if he let the turnips get to a certain height before he turned his cows in to graze. That's a good question. If I pictured it for our goats, I would want the turnips up high enough to have a good hold in the ground so the goats could eat the greens without pulling up the turnips.Right now we are feeding the goats the turnip peels along with some cabbage leaves when we have them. We bought a large, heavy duty french fry cutter that we will be mounting in the barn for cutting up whole turnips. We won't cut up a lot at first until the rest of the goats realize just how good they are.Great questions. Thank you for sharing.Fern

  19. Thank you for all of the interesting ways to eat turnips, Kymber. We haven't been brave enough to try them raw yet, but we will. I'm experimenting with fermenting cabbage for sauerkraut, and I think turnips will be next. Did I ever tell you I love learning?? I really do! Thank you for sharing.Fern

  20. From the smallest statements, sometimes comes the most interesting and useful learning, Cindy. That one anonymous comment has really made a difference for us! Thank you for sharing and good luck with your taste test.Fern

  21. Thanks for this information! I grew them in the past but hated the flavor. This may change everything! While we don't have livestock now, I can see this being very useful in the future!

  22. My dog will eat turnips ( with the peel )if you cut it in pieces, he will go to the garden and pull one up and bring to you to cut up. I have one crazy dog. oh he love butternut squashraw that he steals from the garden. I may need to fence in the garden this year! lol !!Sue

  23. We've grown Tokyo Turnips that mature in 30 days – raw or cooked always tender, sweet and never bitter. Greens are real good too. Suppose they could be grown larger, but at 30 days no need to peel.

  24. I am 69 years old. My grandmother (retired from farm life) taught me at a very young age how to cook. She taught me to peel the turnip and would always give me a little slip of it raw while we were preparing the meal. She did that with most all vegetables we cooked… little bits of it raw for a taste. I learned to love so many vegetables raw and cooked from my grandmother's kitchen. Of course her veggies were fresh from her garden. Certainly not like any veggies we usually get from groceries these days.

  25. We used to turn the cattle out in the beet field after sugar beet harvest and they would eat the greens that the topper left out there, kept them happy for quite awhile. Had not thought of that for a long time, need to start remembering more of those things I think.

  26. Did the feed store owner let the livestock graze where he was growing the turnips? When you feed the turnip root to your goats is it whole or do you cut it up. I am new to goats, but want to get some in the near future. I currently raise chicken and rabbits for food. We are looking in to raising their feed and I want to do the same for any goats I get.Thank you

  27. Dear Frank and Fern – i had a giggle over the fact that you didn't know to peel turnips – a few years ago a friend mentioned that she didn't like beets – guess what? she didn't peel them first – bahahahahaha! back to turnips – peel them and then slice them really thin, put them in a bowl of salted water (sea salt or kosher salt) and then take them out by the handfull, add some more salt and you have a very delicious, raw snack. do the same with cabbage. our favourite way of preparing turnip is cut them up like potatoes, steam them until they are tender…and now…get ready for it – add maple syrup and some cream and mash them! they are delicious that way! another way to prepare them is to steam them with chunks of carrot, mash them together with some butter, cream, sea salt and pepper – oh deelish! a lot of the trendy restaurants and \”foodie\” blogs are talking about \”plating\” meat with turnip puree…which is a fancy way of saying steamed, mashed turnip. there isn't a soup, boiled dinner, stew or meatpie that doesn't taste better with turnip. but again…sliced thin and kept in salted water and eaten as a raw snack – yowzers! that's some good eating right there!don't even get me started on turnip greens. i could be here all night – bahahahah! glad you guys are enjoying turnips!!! your friend,kymber

  28. Excellent post! Wow, I grew up on a farm and have always disliked turnips. We didn't grow them because no one in my family liked them. Now I will definitely have to get some and try this! I love reading your blog. I learn something almost every time I do!

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